Gay Wyoming Student Succumbs to Injuries
By Tom Kenworthy
Authorities in Laramie immediately moved to upgrade criminal charges against four suspects.
Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron James McKinney, 22, will face charges of first-degree murder rather than attempted murder, and their girlfriends, Chastity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18, will face charges of being accessories after the fact to first-degree murder rather than being accessories to attempted murder. The two men also face charges of kidnapping and robbery.
Shepard, 21, was lured from a bar popular with University of Wyoming students last Tuesday night, beaten with a pistol butt and left tied to a fence just outside of Laramie. He never regained consciousness during the four days he was hospitalized, and died at 12:53 a.m. (MDT) today at Poudre Valley Hospital, with his parents at his bedside.
"The family was grateful they did not have to make a decision regarding whether or not to continue life support for their son," said hospital president Rulon Stacey in a prepared statement.
Responding to news of Shepard's death, Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer (R) said that all Wyoming residents "feel a sense of tragedy and disbelief that a human life could be taken in such a brutal way."
"We must now find closure," added Geringer, "to first assure that justice will be effectively carried out, and second to work with the determination that there will not be a repeat of this incident in any fashion in Wyoming."
At a fund-raiser in New York today, President Clinton said, "The indications are that he was beaten so badly because he was gay by people who were either full of hatred or full of fear or both." Earlier, Clinton urged Congress to pass legislation making federal prosecution of hate crimes against homosexuals easier.
Other national leaders, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), denounced the attack on Shepard and vigils were held for the slain student, including one at the U.S. Capitol.
Shepard's beating has been widely portrayed by gay rights activists and others as a hate crime. But Price, McKinney's girlfriend, told the Denver Post that her boyfriend intended only to rob Shepard after the university student embarrassed him by flirting with him at a bar.
"It wasn't meant to be a hate crime," Price told the Post in an article that appeared on Sunday. "They just wanted to rob him." Price is the only one of the four suspects who has been released on bond.
The beating of Shepard has shed a national spotlight on Wyoming and the failure of its legislature to enact anti-hate crimes legislation. At a Sunday night vigil in Laramie, petitions urging the legislature to act were circulated among several hundred people who paid tribute to Shepard.
Geringer, at a press conference in Cheyenne this morning, continued to insist that one crime, no matter how brutal, should not be the basis for hastily considered legislation.
"The clamoring for Wyoming to pass a 'hate crimes law' reflects a rush to judgment in itself," said Geringer. "We can and will deal with this properly and on our own. Those who call for a nationally imposed remedy are misdirected."
Geringer called on Wyoming residents to consider "how we might come to grips with this issue" and to present him with "a collective suggestion for anti-bias, anti-hate legislation that can be presented to the Wyoming legislature for their consideration in January."
Geringer and others have bristled at some media portrayals of their state that suggested that Wyoming, because of its cowboy ethos, is inhospitable to those with unconventional lifestyles.
"Wyoming people are discouraged that all of us could be unfairly stereotyped by the actions of two very sick and twisted people," said Geringer.
Shepard's parents echoed that sentiment in a statement issued Friday night. If Matthew could have spoken, said Judy and Dennis Shepard, "he would emphasize he does not want the horrible actions of a few very disturbed individuals to mar the fine reputations of Laramie or the university."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company